Pedro Arrais review: Off-road meets its match with Cherokee Trailhawk

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If your idea of off-the-beaten-track is more driving along a trail that can be a rocky crag at one moment (with one wheel in the air) and a swollen mountain stream the next, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is your ride.

The Cherokee has just undergone a major sheetmetal overhaul that saw its polarizing front end redesigned to be more conventional. Even with the changes, the Cherokee is still unmistakably a Jeep through and through.

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The 2019 Cherokee is available in six flavours, starting from $29,995 for the Sport. I drove a Trailhawk, with a list price of $38,995.

The Trailhawk has emerged as the go-to model for die-hard off-road enthusiasts. In the Cherokee, the Trailhawk can be immediately identified by bumpers that allow for improved approach, departure and breakover angles. To the uninitiated, there are also serious-looking red tow hooks that sprout from both ends.

The Jeep brand as a whole caters to a different crowd. Sure, its vehicles can blend in nicely with other competitors in and around the city. But if you plan to go off the beaten path — and even way, way off — there are few at this price point that will take you there and back, as well.

For one, the Cherokee isn’t just another all-wheel drive — it is a true 4X4 when driving conditions dictate, giving superior traction over its AWD competitors.

Jeep offers a three off-road systems with the Cherokee. The system on the Trailhawk is called the Jeep Active Drive Lock 4X4 System. It has a low range for traction, along with a neutral mode for flat-towing behind a recreational vehicle, for example.

It also boasts a mechanical locking rear differential.

The off-road-oriented Trailhawk has 220 millimetres of ground clearance and 245/65 R17 tires with lots of sidewall, giving it the ability to scramble over rocks/boulders and deep snow.

On the Cherokee, drivers can turn a dial, found on the centre console beside the shift lever, to choose between Auto, Snow and Sand/Mud to find the optimum match between the vehicle and the terrain it is facing. The Trailhawk adds a Rock mode to the mix.

While it is akin to a mountain goat off-road, the Trailhawk is surprisingly comfortable on the pavement. The aggressive tread on the all-terrain tires does add a bit more noise than the more common all-season versions, but it is far from noisy.

There are three engine choices — a 2.4-litre four-cylinder, a 3.2-litre V-6 and a turbocharged 2.0-litre four. The latter is new to the line, with an impressive 295 pound-feet of torque.

My tester was equipped with the variable-valve-timing V-6. It has 271 horsepower, just one more pony than the turbo four, with 239 pound-feet of torque.

All the engines are mated with a ZF nine-speed automatic transmission that features smooth, almost imperceptible shifts.

The powertrain combo is as good and composed as it gets, with smooth, ample power and minimal noise, even under full throttle. Both the V-6 and the turbo engine get engine stop-start technology to maximize fuel economy. Although the turbo four is superior in fuel economy, the V-6 only requires less-expensive regular-grade gas, so in the end the difference in operating cost will likely be a wash.

The interiors of SUVs have become more and more car-like over the years, and the Cherokee closely matches that trend.

The seats were comfortable, with an effective adjustable lumbar support. The back seat is generous for two and adequate for three.

The front passengers are treated to an 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The Uconnect system is among the best in the industry, with logical controls, and it’s a breeze to navigate.

My only complaint is that some controls, such as for the heated seats, are included on the screen. I prefer to have physical buttons that I can press, even with a gloved hand in the winter.

The media centre includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

If there is one area that the Cherokee falls short, it is in its cargo capacity. With 697 litres with the back seats up and 1,555 down, it’s not bad, but it falls short compared with such rivals as the GMC Terrain. Keep in mind that the Trailhawk features a full-sized spare tire — lesser models have hidden under-cargo-floor storage.

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is an unique creature in the compact-crossover market. Many of its competitors may look tough, but ultimately prove to be soft-roaders rather than off-roaders.

Not only does the Cherokee talk the talk, it walks the walk — and that’s one reason it is the one to beat in the segment.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Compact crossover/SUV, front engine, 4X4

Engine: 3.2-litre V-6, 271 hp at 6,500 r.p.m., 239 lb.-ft. of torque

Transmission: Nine-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,623; width, 1,902; height, 1,772; wheelbase, 2,720

Curb weight (kg): 1,928

Price (base/as tested): $38,995/ $44,045 (includes $1,895 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Metallic paint $245, safety Tec package $895, cold-weather package $995, Uconnect with navigation $920

Tires: 245/65 R17 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 12.9 city/ 9.9 highway

Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance

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